Over the weekend, a Utah GOP convention failed to nominate Sen. Bob Bennett in his third re-election bid to Congress.
When a party rejects its own incumbent in a primary — and he’s a mild-mannered Uncle Bob type not involved in a sex scandal or facing criminal indictment — that’s huge.
On the one hand, it’s healthy when voters demonstrate that no incumbent owns his or her seat. On the other hand, when party voters demand the kind of purity sought by Bennett’s opponents, they risk triggering a stampede from the center. And woe be the lawmaker who works across the aisle. The far side is running the party.
Bennett, 76, was undone by a system that allowed 3,500 convention delegates to decide that businessman Tim Bridgewater and attorney Mike Lee would face off in the June 22 primary.
They prevailed because the anti-tax Club for Growth waged a successful campaign that urged delegates to reject Bennett because he supported President Bush’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and has been an aggressive ear-marker. Citizens Against Government Waste recently ranked Bennett among earmarkers as the 14th largest spender.
As club spokesman Mike Connolly put it, after Bennett went back on his 1992 term-limits pledge, "He’s really become a Washington creature. He’s an appropriator."
Thus, Connolly crowed, the weekend’s results were a victory, as the GOP nominee, whoever he is, will be more conservative than Bennett, and sure to win in November.
As Connolly put it, "It really was a matter of what kind of a Republican do you want to send" to Washington?
Not so fast.
As of my deadline, Bennett had not ruled out a write-in foray. After Connecticut Democrats rejected Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2006, he ran as an independent and beat Democratic nominee Ned Lamont.
Now, it doesn’t bother me to watch a D.C. earmark prince forfeit his precious position because he was too free with other people’s money. Kudos to voters who let Washington know they don’t want pork.
But it’s hard to celebrate when the other big hit against Bennett was that he co-authored an alternative health care bill with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. That is, he is being penalized for trying to get things done.
Asked about Bennett at a press conference Monday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she saw Bennett’s ouster as proof that Republicans don’t want lawmakers who are willing to depart from the party line.
Not that Boxer considers Bennett particularly centrist. "He probably voted with us five times," said Boxer. It was an interesting observation, given that the 2010 Almanac of American Politics rated Boxer as the third most liberal senator, with a liberal score of 90 percent. The Almanac labeled Bennett as a centrist because of his 34 percent liberal/66 percent conservative voting record.
Which goes to show that being far left or far right is the safe spot inside the 2010 Beltway.
"He’s a moderate, and I don’t want a moderate. I don’t want somebody on the fence. I want someone completely on the right," delegate Pam Wilson told Politico.com.
What’s that old saw about being careful what you wish for? All or nothing means: all or nothing.